Andrew Peacock is a doctor, adventure photographer and explorer, whose breathtaking imagery gives a glimpse into the far off places he’s travelled. Having graduated in 1991 as a doctor, Andrew worked in the early 90’s as a surgical resident in California. Once photography entered Andrew’s life, he was unable to let go of the possibilities and creativity it introduced. “I began photographing using transparency film. It was a really transforming moment when I reviewed my first slides from a trip to Hawaii on a light table. They were very average pictures, but the unforgiving nature of transparency film and the almost magical 3-D quality of the image when viewed through a loupe really grabbed my attention.”
Over the years, Andrew has joined expeditions that employ his abilities as both a doctor and photographer. “I’ve always loved to travel and explore the world and to experience different places and cultures. I try and involve myself with interesting expeditions or on journeys with a specific purpose to more remote areas where I can tell an interesting story photographically. It helps that I’m a medical doctor, which has given me great opportunities in recent years
to work on some awesome trips to places like Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Nepal and India. A dramatic landscape and the people and/or wildlife moving within it is what really captures my attention the most.”
Andrews photos embody the look, feel, and subject matter that classic travel photography was founded upon. On his two trips to Antarctica, he captured images of surreal landscapes of ice and snow, desolate and never-ending vistas from their ship, and wildlife unaccustomed to human interaction. Because of Andrew’s passion for adventure and his admiration for the natural world, his images are full of life. They cultivate a sense of wonder and bring the viewer up close to the adventure at hand.
Read on to learn more about Andrew’s trips to Antarctica and the incredible aspects of his career as an expedition doctor and photographer. All of the remarkable and exciting photographs below were processed using the Agfa Scala, Kodak 100G, Fuji Astia, and Fuji Provia Presets within VSCO Film 04 for Adobe Lightroom 4 & 5.
Please tell us about your expertise in being a doctor. How did the opportunity to be a doctor on such expeditions come about? How has being a photographer enriched the expeditions you’ve been on?
It not only seems long ago now that I graduated as a doctor, it really is - 1991... I decided to volunteer and work as a doctor for the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala, India. I contacted Fuji, and they kindly gave me fifty rolls of Velvia to take with me. I think any hope of a traditional medical ‘career’ was doomed from then on, as the life of a nomad climber and traveler appealed more, and I’ve never gone on to complete training in a speciality area.
Instead, I have built up an extensive amount of experience in general and emergency medicine, combining traditional hospital contract work with remote area and expedition work in Australia and overseas, aiming where I could to find ways of combining my climbing, paddling and photography skills with medical work, both paid and voluntary. As is often the case, networks built up over time generate the most opportunities in the area of expedition medicine. For instance,
I was asked to be the doctor for the recent Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) by a climbing friend, Greg Mortimer, one of Australia’s most lauded mountaineers. We climbed Manaslu (8163m) together in 2002.
Being an Expedition Doctor can be a thankless task, because I’m only useful when things go wrong, and nobody wants that to happen. So it’s always good to add other skills to the mix, which is where photography comes in. So I ‘morph’ into the Expedition Photographer as well, giving instruction and talks on photography to the others. Interestingly, there was one expedition in the Arctic aboard a super yacht traveling through the Northwest Passage where my contractual engagement was as a photographer, yet I was expected to fulfill the responsibilities of a doctor if those skills were needed. I lead treks in India and Nepal occasionally and, also on those journeys, adopt the role of Expedition Photographer when I can. It’s satisfying helping and teaching others who are interested in the world of digital photography, and of course, there is no end to the learning experience for me.
Tell us more about your trips to Antarctica. What was the purpose for each trip? What are some of the things you enjoy most about traveling to such a desolate region?
The photos seen here are from the past two trips I’ve made to Antarctica. Both were ship based, which is the most common way that people get to experience the great white continent. By far, most of those trips are tourism based and go to the Peninsula, which was the basis for my first visit as a ship’s doctor. Compared with the rest of Antarctica, it is reached relatively easily in a few days sailing from the tip of South America. For the AAE, it took us 8 days to reach East Antarctica across the tempestuous Southern Ocean, after leaving from the bottom of New Zealand. The AAE was a science based expedition, utilizing private funding from paying passengers and university grants. The aim was to travel to the area of Commonwealth Bay and repeat and compare scientific observations with those
made by an Australian scientist and adventurer Sir Douglas Mawson, who first landed there 100 years before with the original AAE. At the time, this was the Edwardian equivalent of today’s space travel. His team established a base hut in a spot which has now been proven to be one of the windiest places on earth, and there they made many oceanographic, geological and meteorological measurements over two winters. Clearly, we had more creature comforts than Mawson and his men, yet visiting the coast of East Antarctica is still a difficult proposition, and it felt very remote geographically speaking. The desolate landscape with multi-hued, blue ice features and the intense, 24-hour light at such a southern latitude makes for a wonderful, yet challenging environment in which to photograph. It’s a beautiful place, which changes remarkably in mood with the weather. Delightfully inquisitive penguins are a constant presence at the edge of the ice, and their charismatic personality means I never tire of photographing them.
On your latest trip to Antarctica, quite an ordeal developed. Can you please tell us about this event?
Unfortunately, our ship for the AAE, the Akademik Shokalskiy, was caught by an unexpected breakout of old, multi-year pack ice far to the east of the area we were in. The expedition had completed its Antarctic shore based work, and we were making slow headway through the thick ice. We were only two miles from reaching open water when it became impossible to proceed. During the blizzard that followed, that distance became twenty miles; so we were effectively ‘stuck’. There was enough initial concern about large icebergs moving independently within the pack ice near the ship to require a request for help to be sent by the Russian Captain to maritime rescue authorities. Once that immediate danger had thankfully passed, for those onboard, it was a case of sit tight and celebrate Christmas Day and New Year in an unusual fashion. Each day was a case of wondering what would transpire next as authorities canvased options, made plans, and then changed plans frequently. It was an unsettling experience for some of the passengers. So I and other expedition team members focused on doing what we could to keep spirits high and people informed and occupied. On January 2nd, a helicopter from the Chinese Icebreaker, “Xue Long”, that was unable to forge a path to extricate the Shokalskiy, was used to shuttle us across a vast expanse of glittering pack ice to the Australian ship Aurora Australis. It was a thoroughly professional operation conducted in good weather, and all of those evacuated are very thankful for the help that was offered. As a result of this event, I found myself at the centre of a somewhat overwrought media frenzy, and because of the technology we had available, I was able to take advantage of it to tell our story. For that slow news period between Christmas and New Year, it’s likely that I was the most published photographer in the world in both the press and web news sites. It was all a bit surreal given that I was stuck on a ship at the bottom of the world!
You have an incredible eye for capturing wildlife. Having such spontaneous and unreliable subjects that often move around, what are things you do to capture such spectacular moments? Do you have an interesting story to share concerning trying to get a particular shot involving wildlife in Antarctica?
I really enjoy the challenges associated with photographing wildlife. I’m not a wildlife photographer per se, but I’d like to explore more subjects in that area. It definitely helps to know a bit about the ecology of the subject so you can be more in tune with the particular behavior of an animal species. I try to take up a position from which I can observe wildlife without altering its behavior, but sometimes, that’s difficult to do, as with inquisitive penguins who often approach the photographer for instance. Faced with numerous subjects all together, or a lot of movement, it can be overwhelming to know how and what to compose to produce a telling image. My approach will differ according to the situation. When the animal(s) are not going anywhere fast, then before taking any photos, I find it helps to observe for a while. Resist the urge to photograph straightaway; learn from what the animal is doing. Consider the overall scene, but also focus on specifics and tight compositions. See if there are any patterns emerging in the
viewfinder, and look for unique characteristics that tell a story about the wildlife. I want to show something of its personality if possible. It may be just a turn of the head into a different position that can make all the difference between an average shot and one that stands out; so take the time to choose exactly when to fire the shutter. I am often looking for a specific moment when the movement is ‘just so’ to produce something interesting. That may involve changing lenses too in order to compose in a certain way. Of course, sometimes an interaction takes place quickly and with little time to think or contemplate.
While paddling a sea kayak off the Antarctic Peninsula last year, a Minke whale surfaced nearby and then began moving toward me. I had my Canon DSLR in a chest pouch, and there was just enough time to get the camera out, alter some settings, and take a few shots as it unexpectedly passed immediately underneath my kayak. I could have given up on the photo option and paddled out of its way, but I trusted this intelligent animal to know exactly where the hull of the kayak was and to avoid knocking me and my expensive, unprotected camera into the freezing water. The experience was amazing and all over in a flash. I was happy to get a couple of nice frames of such a beautiful mammal from a unique angle.
What are some important things you have you learned about yourself, mankind, and nature when going on expeditions to such far off and remote places?
Any expedition to remote areas teaches life lessons to those who participate. In many trips to mountainous and icy regions of the world, I’ve learned that such environments, while beautiful and spectacular, can also be dangerous and unpredictable. Anyone with a climbing background knows someone who has died pursuing their passion for high places. Personally, I’ve learned to make do with less and to always be thankful for the comforts and friendships of home, which are best appreciated on returning from exploring remote landscapes in pursuit of hiking, climbing, paddling or photographic goals. Yet, I am only a visitor to these places, and I am continually amazed at the fortitude of those who live
permanently in harsh environments. Expeditions are never about one or two individuals. Success is measured best by harmonious teamwork, sharing a common goal, and with a safe return home as friends. The resilience of mankind is a common thread running through such trips, whether historical or contemporaneous. Consider the awful circumstances of Sir Douglas Mawson arriving back at his hut barely alive after losing his two companions on a mapping expedition, only to find the ship that had waited to take him back to Australia was just disappearing over the horizon, condemning him to a second winter in the dark and cold of Antarctica. It’s apparent in the generous and unyielding nature of local people, living a life far removed from expeditioners they are often called upon to help- Sherpas in the Khumbu region of Nepal for instance or porters from the impoverished village of Skardu, the starting point for journeys up the Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan’s Karakorum mountains.
For those looking to get into the business of travel, adventure, or nature photography, what advice would you give them?
Clearly, it’s not easy to run a business focusing just on those areas of photography in this new digital era, because the market is saturated and budgets have evaporated for magazine work for instance. Hard work, networking, producing images with a unique style and access to amazing locations will be necessary. It’s a broad scope of practice; so be prepared to learn skills shooting across a wide range of subjects. It helps first of all to be a hardy traveler and/or an adventurer and a nature lover. Then, the photography will follow suit;
it doesn’t make sense to do it the other way around. Shoot what inspires you, and the images will stand out that much better because of your understanding of the subject. Enter photo competitions for fun and so that you have a real interest in learning from what images win (in case yours don’t!). Always shoot RAW files, edit critically, learn Lightroom, and get your photos out there— and by that I don’t just mean on Flickr. I mean in magazines, commercial websites, stock libraries, the walls of a gallery or a home etc. Value the time and effort you put in. Be proud of the images you produce by holding out for payment for your images, or at least learn to be an astute judge of when a contribution for free can lead to other things for you or when it’s OK to be generous for a cause.
What do you like about using VSCO Film? If you don’t mind sharing, what VSCO Film pack do you regularly use, and what are your favorite presets?
I really enjoyed taking photos with slide film back in the day and, in particular, using the Fuji emulsions. The ‘look’ of a print from transparency film is unmistakeable, and I think we have lost something special by transitioning almost entirely to digital files, which can sometimes look a little bland. Of course, there are many advantages to shooting digitally- more space in my backpack without the need to carry rolls of film into the backcountry being one of them. Naturally enough, I use the VSCO Film 04 Pack for Canon in my Lightroom RAW processing workflow. It contains some great Fuji and Kodak slide film presets, which when used on the right images help create a beautiful filmic look with good dynamic range. After starting with a good exposure and white balance setting, it’s a one click process to introduce the VSCO preset. And of course, it’s all non-destructive editing with a clear pathway for tweaking the settings to achieve more or less of the slide film effect. I like that flexibility in the creative process. My favorite presets are Agfa Scala for black and white processing, Kodak 100G for journalistic images, Fuji Astia for portraiture and Fuji Provia as a starting point for landscapes.